Review by ShadowRuby
"A tale of souls and lightsabers..."
For eleven years, the Soul series has been by far one of the best series ever to travel across almost every platform in existence. The latest instalment promises to be more immense than any previous title in the series, but is it really the game you'd expect? Will this chapter in the series of insanely powerful swords have its fourth chapter eternally retold in the hearts of great warriors, Japanese women and Yoda?
You'll realise immediately with Soul Calibur IV that the graphics are little short of spectacular, and it's immediately notable that watching Ivy's oversized breasts bounce around while she slices your favourite Star Wars character to death will make you completely forget that you're playing an online battle and that losing will of course cause your online rating to severely drop, but we'll get onto gameplay later. Level design has a vast improvement from the previous title, with many completely new environments and a few pointless shiny upgrades of the same level we've been seeing since Weapon Master mode was the highlight of a game.
The above mentioned mode could still be classed as the highlight of the entire series, as the current game offers a great deal less. Players of the previous Soul Calibur III will note that the Tales of Souls mode was tedious at the best of times, but the number of choices of direction during that and the secret final boss for those who managed to stay alive through a long sequence of levels made people want to play on, but Namco seem to think this entire idea was bad, and so supplied their players with a Story Mode. On the outside, this seems like an interesting mode. On the inside, you have a series of five unchallenging battles, three cutscenes (including the ending scene) and a few captions or blocks of text. For example, if you were to play as Astaroth, your five-minute story time would consist of a nice paragraph about how he was the last person in the universe to realise that he isn't human, a few battles, and a painful ending cutscene in which we see our axe-wielding maniac absorb some colourful sperm cells from Algol, before destroying trees and shouting that he wants more of these things to come to him.
For those who don't know, Algol is one of the very few new characters introduced into the game. Hero king at heart, the flying lunatic still needs the two swords of immense power to do what he likes, which seems pointless, as he can already summon chairs to appear mid-battle without them. Other additions include Raphael's daughter Amy, who has an almost identical ending cutscene to that of her father, and Hilde, an English-voiced knight who fights with a spear and a knife. This unimpressive array of new characters is backed up by five fighters, pointlessly classified as bonus when all they seem to do is steal fighting techniques from other characters and appear on the third stage of every story without any reason for being there. Star Wars also make an appearance in the game, with Darth Vader, the Apprentice, and, for some utterly random, stupid, and pointless reason, Yoda, the only character in the game who's too small to throw, slice, destroy, kiss or throw a farmyard animal at.
Character creation is still as popular a feature as it was in the previous title, with all new items of clothing and higher level of customizability surrounding the base aspects of the character, such as physique, which on female characters can severely increase the breast size, and tone of voice, meaning that, in theory, six hundred people could all have the same voice but with separate tones, making battles somewhat annoying when a button-bashing ten year old thrashes your floored body with a repetition of damnit in a high-pitched female voice.
Online is a brand new feature to the Soul series, and it's very welcomed, even if the levelling system is entirely pointless. Namco have suddenly become obsessed with statistics, and so, instead of simply having stats for win and lose, you get points for your battle style, winning, consecutive bonuses etcetera, and when you reach the max amount, you then need to win a battle in order to level up and be more respected by the online community of people at level 314, and while I establish that it's all well and good, as it helps to distinguish who's good at the game and has been playing for a long time, and who's good at the game and has just got it, it'd be much easier just to emphasise the wins, rather than User X is level 43, and has 183/500 points which means nothing to new players. Depending on a player's skill, the level up process can take several hours, especially since the game's idea of matching you with someone of a similar ability means match a level three player with someone at level forty eight. Unranked matches are in general more fun to play, and thus more addictive because there's a more communal feel. Playing against people who just want to prove they're good at the game generally results in threatening messages as the same ten year old you fought yesterday beats every aspect of fun simply by hammering the vertical strike button, he gets a level up, you lose points because you couldn't land a hit.
The battle system is more or less the same formula as has been used for the last few years with a few minor differences. The first is the Soul Gage, a random circle that appears near the HP bar and turns blue when full and red when empty. When these become aligned in some colourful rainbow way, and an attack is dropped on a guarding enemy, they go into a Soul Crush state for a second, and pressing the right button will then allow you to unleash a critical finish and kill them in one shot, but the feature is completely pointless as it's ridiculously difficult to use outside the Training mode. The other new feature is the destruction of equipment in three areas of the fighters, which can, in most created characters usually end up half naked, which can be quite off-putting to male players who would rather play as the character with the biggest breasts, which, as we all know, is never the best fighter.
Overall, Soul Calibur IV, a highly awaited sequel, is a poor attempt at a continuation of a good series. Namco might as well have stole their previous title in thee series, removed every good mode, added online support, breast enlargement clinics, shiny hair and doubled the loading time, and you'd still have a much more entertaining experience. The only thing still carrying the series along is the promise of characters with unrealistically huge breasts and another video game tie-in, like Link or Darth Vader.
Note from the Author: I'm fully aware of the number of times breasts have been mentioned in this article, and it isn't because I'm the kind of gamer who would buy games just because there's a nice, thought-provoking picture like so on the box. It is because the game itself emphasises the female anatomy in its entirety too much, and it should be said that if Namco had put more effort into making new ways to play, maybe we would have a story mode with a story.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 12/02/08
Game Release: SoulCalibur IV (US, 07/29/08)
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